We all know that seemingly uncontrollable urge to jump to conclusions and make assumptions about a situation or a person we know next to nothing about.
We'd be lying if we claimed we've never blurted out, then wished we'd used our inside voice first.
The reason - it's a survival instinct, according to a Simon Fraser University (SFU) psychologist, engrained into our brains to force us to choose one path or another to avoid danger and render us more efficient.
Basically, throughout our lives, from an early age, we form a myriad of pictures and ideas in our heads that allow us to make quick decisions. Sometimes, those decisions are bad ones.
"From a cognitive perspective, we look for a 'schema' of different objects that we've gathered in our life," said SFU's Dr. Joti Samra, who's also a private practice clinical psychologist and regularly appears on TV.
"For example, we have a schema of what dogs and tables are. We instantly recognize something as a dog because it fits a number of schema.
"A table might be a different size or shape, but we recognize certain aspects of it and process it."
People go through life developing different schemas, said
Samra, and gather schema of what people who are ill and what people who are healthy look like.
"For many people, someone who's ill, looks sad, thin, grey or whatever," said Samra.
"But, when someone is ill and looks perfectly healthy; the brain has trouble understanding that. It doesn't fit our schema for what an ill person looks like.
"Things like depression and anxiety are invisible to the naked eye and we sometimes have a hard time accepting what someone may be suffering from."
There are, of course, benefits to the schematic function of the brain that we employ every day of our lives.
For example, explained Samra, it'd be confusing if, every day, we had to learn to drive all over again or had to re-process every little thing we do on a daily basis.
"We quickly learn to discriminate between someone or a situation that may pose as a danger to us, it's a survival instinct," she said.
"The brain is motivated to choose one path or the other. It makes us more efficient and we're biologically wired to form cognitive shortcuts to help us survive.
"If you compare it to the caveman days, someone who was coughing and looked sick would probably be stayed clear of in order for the rest to stay alive."
Unfortunately, added Samra, when we develop our schemas, we can make errors.
"It comes down to education, asking more questions before commenting," she said.
"We need to be more open-minded as there could be so many things you don't know about that person or situation."
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